the matrix

Diversity is not in the equation

I’m not sure why I feel shaken. While the media will likely focus on the quake in Christchurch today, with good reason, my morning started with a different kind of movement. The jolt came from reading about another residency being declined on the basis of disability or more accurately the ‘costs’ attached to the care that might be needed for a family member. This time it is a maths professor being turned down because his step son has autism.

Not feeling the love today, maybe our government is taking this 100% pure campaign to the next level. But with my general distain for Valentines day mixing with a pervasive sense of deja vu, I had to stop myself being torn apart with a visceral sense we have reached the point of dispassionate valuing of people based on the capitalist model of production.

What is really clever about neo liberal, advanced capitalism is just how absolutely mesmerising and hypnotic the ideology that manipulates deep fears to promote individual responsibility, freedom of choice, competition and productivity in the name of ‘best interests of everyone’. People hate the idea they aren’t thinking for themselves. It pushes values that appear on the surface to be good such as competition while quietly ensuring people remain just a bit on edge with a sense of vulnerability. It invites people to reduce life and worth into modes of being that play along with normative structures. When you are born into this global community you are plugged into this value system based on production and consumption. Forget all that stuff about diversity – unless it suits your advertising campaign. Perhaps as Bronwyn Davies suggests, the ultimate power of neo liberalism is it is founded on the assumption that there is no alternative – therefore making it impervious to critique.

It is the ultimate version of The Matrix people are so attached to the system that they will fight to protect it. The logic is sound – if someone is a drain on the health system (that is ‘your hard earned tax dollars are going to be poured down the drain) people will back the system that looks after them every time and agree ‘that’s fair’. New Zealand your ‘pure’ brand is starting to feel like a past regime without the overt propaganda just a quiet take-over of our fear of difference. I’m no maths professor but this really doesn’t add up to any form of humane and just society.

In the words of Elizabeth Grosz, ‘we need to disturb difference rather than be disturbed by difference’. Wake up New Zealand – the neo liberal matrix has you and it makes us look ugly and really shaky on human rights. Watch out for silver spoons.

To become some Body

If we ever transcend the limits of our bodies as a species I for one will be relieved never to have to find a public toilet ever again. I can never quite figure out from the signs which one I am supposed to use because I am not a triangle. But for now, I’m stuck with this one and it serves me pretty well most of the time.

If you are a human being chances are you have an awareness of your body and how it looks and functions. I know I became very aware at a young age that people confused my gender with my short hair and love of flannel shorts and matching top. As other lumps and bumps appeared I noticed certain bumps and lumps were commented on more than others, some approved of others not so much. There were conversations around eating, food, and a new idea ‘weight’ that emerged to sow seeds of doubt around this vessel I was conscious of as my body. Not the media, not images on TV, no – my parents and coaches and others drawing attention to how I looked or should look helped unease and self-surveillance (Foucault was definitely onto something – but did miss the gender thing slightly),

We have placed an incredible amount of meaning on body size and shape that we cannot escape. Gender aside (for the time being) our physicality is inescapable but we are told it is maleable. Choice and responsiblity and self-accountability have become the new mantras of an industry primed to cash in on the collective fear of being anything other than thin and/or buff, fear is a great marketing tool – remember that. When I talk with adults about the teasing or bullying they experienced more often than not it was about their looks, particularly their weight. Women’s magazines are a page by page rollercoaster through extremes and contradictions. First there is the weight loss success story, followed by the celebrity ‘lost my baby body in 3 weeks’ story, next to the chocolate cake recipes and finally the extreme close ups with arrows pointing out all the flawed bits and ‘too skinny’ or ‘out of shape’ with looking good fitting an incredibly narrow criteria but generally its somewhere between skeletal and thin – thigh gaps essential.

But we do it to each other as well. We notice and comment on whether people have put on weight, lost weight, have a tan, a new hair style, are on a diet, not on a diet, should be on a diet, what diet is new. People are quick to ‘tut tut’ those who’s body shape has moved out of the narrow margins of ‘acceptable’ while condemning those who fall into the clutches of anorexia or bulimia.

The morbid fascination and objectification of obesity as a form of ‘horror show’ can be seen in the number of TV shows dedicated to weightertainment. It’s kind of psychotic and pathological but we accept it as normal and even important to know what our ‘ideal weight’ should be based on a fundamentally flawed formula called the BMI – invented by a mathematician in the 19th Century…yes you read that correctly. Not a physician (let alone one within the last 100 years!) someone who liked numbers and measuring things. Well I have to say those three letters should be renamed from Body Mass Index to Blatantly Manipulated Information.

Bodies come in all shapes and sizes but lets get real and honest about how we restrict what is validated as beautiful. There is a rather more insidious effect; the art of distraction, like a perpetual maze confusing, disorienting and consuming consciousness. The time and energy that some people put into managing their bodies to ensure they ‘look perfect’ means less for other things. It is the ultimate form of control, probably the most effective form of Matrix program for subduing a population. People can now get Apps to help them stay plugged in more deeply and ensure they become fully immersed in the Weigh-tricks.

Yip, I’m feeling inspired to write a spoof – The Weightrix. Main characters Porkeus, Thinnity, and Gello. Porkeus looking for Gello inside the Weightrix offers him the red or blue pill – they’re jelly beans. Thinnity hopes Gello will make the ‘Pump test’ but he fails the first time. They send him to The Biggest Loser where he meets The Oraface.

“Bake up – the Weightrix has you.”

Waking up to being asleep

I remember when The Matrix hit the big screen in 1999. The ‘splinter in my mind’ embedded deeper infecting my consciousness and grew to a full blown pustule that needed to be squeezed. So I read and read as much as I could on everything that seemed to take me toward alternative ideas about reality. But it was frustrating talking with others who just ‘thought it was cool’ and quickly went out and bought large black boots and coats (guilty as well) with that being the most significant influence on their lives.

That was 15 years ago but The Matrix has grown as an idea to explore systems of social control much like George Orwell did with 1984 and many others – but these are the two that stand out for me. I haven’t tried to remove the splinter – it’s important to stay in a state of irritation and inflammation because without that I think I would potentially fall into accepting the program and falling asleep again.

It’s a bit of a fine line talking about control without someone instantly putting you into the ‘conspiracy theorist’ box and shutting the lid. Perhaps this reflects an awareness at a deeper level that ‘ignorance is bliss.’ I’m not sure but another possibility is the belief that once you start down the rabbit hole it could drive you crazy and would suck the fun out of life. Living outside the Matrix in the movie was far from comfortable, they ate ‘snot’ and lived underground – not the best or most aesthetically enticing representation of freedom. I’d like to suggest it is possible to delve into these areas and still maintain a sense of humour and enjoying life – yes it is possible to live in a contradiction without being a hypocrite, expecting consistency is a brilliant way of keeping people in check. Embracing contradiction is one version of the red pill.

The meaning of ‘control’ and ‘the program’ probably represents the essence of what I am talking about. Others have done this work and you can certainly scan the world wide web for allusions to The Matrix. I’ve referenced David Icke before and he would most likely be one of the more deeper rabbit hole divers – he didn’t just take the red pill I’m sure of it. I’d rather not put my own definition up because the splinter is the key – it is the catalyst that invites questions and a personal journey. It’s not as simple as ‘red or blue’ pill or even ‘awake and asleep.’ The best I could do is to offer some observations and invite anyone who stumbles upon this to keep wondering – I certainly don’t have a sense that I ‘know exactly’ what the Matrix is and would never claim to.

1. Language to me, is a key splinter. Any time something falls into a binary/dualistic paradigm it inevitably closes down the idea it might be neither or both or something else. My favourite example that is popular is ‘nature’ versus ‘nurture.’

2. Perhaps because of our general reliance on putting things in a binary/dualistic relationship there tends to be an over simplification of ideas into facts/opinions or myths. If certain knowledges throw their weight behind an idea it can be moved onto either side. Science does this with great efficiency.

3. Maintaining social division through stereotyping, notions of harm, danger, superiority and self-righteousness is supported by one of the most powerful dualisms ‘right and wrong.’ I think fear is a powerful controller and the use of extreme images and emotive language shuts down processing beyond reactions. This can be done on an individual level, communities, nations, cultures and no doubt if we meet another version of life in the universe, the same would apply – thanks Hollywood for your fine work in this department.

4. Reducing nature the environment and all other living things to either a resource to be used or an obstacle to progress that must be overcome, owned and controlled is shameful yet completely necessary for enabling a constant source of total paralysation and puppet mastery through the use of fear tactics and the manipulation of ‘scarcity and abundance.’

5. Mapped onto this we have a devoted programme based on creating a certainty that without a monetary system civilization would collapse – and ‘go backwards’ or ‘become uncivilized.’ Economics has become ‘naturalised’ and more questions are asked about ‘why mother nature is doing this to us’ than there are to artificial systems of ‘us doing this to ourselves.’

6. Finally we have media saturation of information and images. Why is this important? Because the illusion is more believable when based on an ingrained ‘truth’ that ‘seeing is believing’ and anyone who can control the strings of what is seen with the naked eye has the ability to manipulate at a very deep level.

Not sure if your head is hurting, it could be a splinter or you have been in front of the screen too long. How do you know if you are awake or still dreaming?

…knock knock The Matrix has you.

Press the escape key.

Lessons written in the sand really stick

Growing up in New Zealand more or less comes with compulsory beach experience. I was a child growing up in the 70’s when the only sun tan lotion was coppertone with a maximum SPF of 6 and flannel was a highly respectable form of beach attire. My first surf board was polystyrene and whilst buoyant rubbed against your skin to produce lumpy red rashes which were dutifully treated with Qtol. Experiencing discomfort was part of the joy of riding the waves. Getting dumped and your sinuses flushed with sea water was accepted as right of passage. Looking back I see now just how much I learned through these experiences that masqueraded as fun.

Nostalgic as this sounds I am hoping it rings true for others as we race from one event to another even our ‘beach time’ has become interrupted with technology and other paraphernalia that detract from the connection with nature and the lessons it can impart.

Something I have been thinking about is the challenge of dam building. Whilst futile against a rising tide it provided for an amazing opportunity to explore the tension and illusion of control. My Dad was heavily invested in maximising this and had my brother and I furiously throwing sand into piles like our lives depended on it. He would laugh hysterically as we the incoming tide would tease by sending the odd rogue wave to test the structural integrity of our dam. Teasing would give way to a full on onslaught of relentless surges and we would accept defeat by lying down in the natural pool that would form temporarily before the power of the ocean erased any trace of our presence. We’d retreat, regroup, and start again further up – taking our lessons from the first encounter and altering our technique, timing and teamwork.

It was serious business for a 5 and 7 year old! It was our version of “The Matrix” a chance to play with creative power and accepting there were forces beyond our control that if used appropriately could add to our understanding of pushing boundaries and perceptions of success and failure. Being aware enabled us to en-joy the process without falling into the illusion. The adults around us modelled how to play and be free from attachment to our sense of self-importance.

I still build dams, perhaps a little less vigorously but with no less intensity – I don’t even need a child present to enjoy myself. Why bother? It’s my ‘red pill.’ It keeps my ego in check by reminding me I cannot exist in isolation. It serves as a physical metaphor of the ‘social structures’, beliefs and values I might hold onto in one particular shape, might be reshaped after evaluating their effectiveness at providing me with a particular experience of life.

The flannel might not have returned and I am grateful that sun block is SPF 15+ these days. Some things never change though – people who shake their towel without checking which way the wind is blowing deserve the ‘squinty – sand in my eye – evils.’